Monday, December 9, 2013

Protection for the plants, or just something to make the gardener feel better?

“It’s going to be cold tonight, wrap your tender plants.” We’ve all heard that warning, right? (well okay most of us…). Having been through the Portland’s “arctic blast of 2009” I have serious doubts if, after a point, that wrapping really helps much at all. Maybe when you’re looking at a couple of nights dipping into the low to mid 20’s, but when the thermometer reads 12.7 and you haven’t been above freezing for five days and nights? Well that, as they say, is a horse of a different color.

So in the hours before our latest arctic air blast arrived did I say “to hell with it” and stay inside curled up on the couch with a nice glass of wine? Of course not. If there was a chance I could save some plants by spending a few hours wrapping and covering, of course I had to try. I cannot just stand by and watch a plant die without trying to help it.

For the most part I wrapped things I thought had a chance with a little boost (my scheffleras or the Feijoa sellowiana). Or things that I just stubbornly wanted to believe I might be able to will into living (like the Dicksonia antarctica (tree fern) and my Banksia marginata).

Most of the front yard agaves went under frost cloth with a terra-cotta pot to keep it in place.

Some however were too big and had to make a go of it with just the cloth and some burlap.

Inspired by something a friend said, and having just worked with them on the shade pavilion greenhouse re-do, I bought a few pipe insulating tubes for the tetrapanax trunks.

They were cheap ($1.28) and if they work totally worth it.

In the back garden the bigger agaves got covered, and when the winds kicked in I raided the garage for things to keep the frost cloth and burlap in place. Oh and somewhere in there the show showed up.

A good inch fell but the wicked wind quickly redistributed it as it saw fit.

I kept seeing or being reminded of things I didn't cover, I just ran out of time and materials. Choices were made.

As I mentioned both of the hardy schefflera were both covered.

And the trunks of the palms were all wrapped.

Any container we could possibly move was moved on Thanksgiving weekend. Ultra sensitive things in the shade pavilion greenhouse were moved into the basement to make room for other containers in the greenhouse.

Unplanted purchases (from fall nursery adventures) "holding" in the driveway stock tanks were yanked out and moved into the basement. I was so glad I’d erred on the side of caution and just sunk most of them into the soil still in the nursery containers, so much easier to pull them out!

Other containers were moved into the garage. While it doesn’t really provide much heat (it’s detached and not heated) at least it would act as a wind break.

In a week moment I even placed socks on the flower buds of my edgeworthia, I doubt it has done any good but as you know, I’ve got to try. (notice the Fatsia japonica is winning the prize for cold weather drama queen)

As of this writing I have no idea what will live or die. I’ve learned it takes awhile for the damage to become obvious. So many things look fine right now, even those I know can’t possibly be...like the huge Acacia pravissima…

I wonder about the loquats.

This one (above) had the high overhead protection of the privet...

While the one against the back of the house, along with its neighboring Embothrium coccineum and Callistemon ‘Woodlander's Hardy Red’, had nothing.

And this Grevillea victoriae, hell all my Grevillea, what will become of them?

I’m pretty sure the Euphorbia stygiana is toast.

Same for the Cordyline 'Cha Cha' whose days were numbered from the beginning.
But that’s the thing. Some things I plant knowing they’re going to die eventually, and I’m okay with that (like the cordyline). So many others I planted thinking they’d be okay, after all they’re hardy in my zone. But this is one of those events that changes the rules of the game. I’ll be discovering just how much damage was done over the next few weeks. I’ll try to remain optimistic but here’s fair warning that at times I’ll probably share my sorrow. If the forecast holds I'll start unwrapping things tomorrow...

All material © 2009-2013 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.

93 comments:

  1. Great tip on the tetrapanax and pipe insulation! It might be just enough insulation to get fresh leaves from those trunks. And your loquats look like they're hanging in there. I've been considering one or the other for a spot in my yard and wondered which can stand the cold better, and now I"m leaning toward the loquat.

    It's so sad to have so many plants done in by this cold. But I bet you're already thinking ahead to spring, wondering what to buy to fill in newly opened spots! I know I am.

    Some of my casualties: E.candicans, which I had covered but gave up on a few days ago, cordyline, and possibly an abutiolon. Two agave parryi truncatas planted at an angle on a gravelly hill appear ok so far, but time will tell. Same goes for Ceanothus thyrsiflorous "Skylark" - no visible damage.

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    1. I wish the pipe insulation came in bigger diameter, having to tape two together was a bit of a pain. We shall see if it worked. I really loved the height these guys had finally attained would love to see it again next year. The loquat against the back of the house looked horrid on Sunday morning but had brightened up a bit by the time I took that photo. Hopefully...

      Actually since I already have one project slated for spring (planting up the area where the privet is now) I really didn't need more bare spots to fill. Plus I am finally enjoying a little maturity in the garden and hate to think of being knocked backwards.

      Glad to hear your A. parryi truncatas look good, that gives me hope!

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  2. I've been wondering about your garden. I have a lot of stuff wrapped but promised myself I won't peek under the cloth/blankets/throw rugs until later in the week when we're back to "normal." This cold is heart-breaking, to say the least.

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    1. Indeed it is. How cold have your garden gotten Gerhard?

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    2. I haven't hooked up my weather station to my new computer yet but from a casual glance at the thermometer, around 27°F in the backyard. The front yard is much more exposed; I'd say 25°F. I'm sure there's damage to the most tender plants but I won't know until I uncover everything.

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  3. Don't forget that top growth may die back from the extreme cold, while the roots survive, and perhaps sprout in the spring. So some things you may not know for absolute sure until March. That snow is acting as an insulator too. It will be interesting to see how your marginal plants have done.

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    1. Of course you're right Alison. The tetrapanax has done that in the past, and I won't go removing anything until late spring. My tall cordylines in the front garden took a year before they started growing back from the roots.

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  4. Oh, Danger Garden, my heart goes out to you, especially. I fear the worst for all of us and will also likely share my woes on my blog in the coming weeks and months.

    **sigh** let us hope the mad wrapping and protecting did us some good in the end! At the very least we're all in this together.

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    1. I appreciate the people who can remain positive in the face of this (less critters! new space to plant!) but I'm just not one of them. Thanks for understanding.

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  5. My favorite photo is the edgeworthia. :-)

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    1. Nothing but class around here. Don't you wish you were my neighbor?

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  6. I'm soo sorry danger. It was historic cold. I don't even have the heart to go out this morning and asses the damage. I left both my scheffleras with nothing (uh oh!) we will see just how hardy they really are. My garden went down to 12.2F briefly on Saturday night into Sunday. Thankfully clouds came in and it warmed overnight to 23F. I think your loquats will be just fine. Palms and yuccas seem to handle this weather without any problems - I hope. I'm most certain that my three planted phormium are toast. Best of luck to you! By Wednesday we should be back to rain and warm.

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    1. Oh Louis! I tried to find some into on how cold you may have gotten but wasn't successful. 12.2F is brutal! Did you have the wind like we did? I wrapped my two favorite phormium, I don't know why because experience certainly says there isn't a chance. The rest are already starting to melt. Please keep us updated on how all all of your plants are doing in the days ahead!

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    2. Thanks, Danger. I certainly will. I'm off (in the snow) to buy some box leaf azara and olea leccino (cold never stops this crazy!). Temps around here were all over the board. Until Saturday I had managed to escape all of the severe cold and stayed in the mid 20's. Then it cleared saturday evening and was super still, thats when temps plummeted. Up until that point we had some fairly severe wind.

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    3. I am seriously considering a box leaf azara, they are pretty fabulous.

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  7. Loree, whatever happens, you can't say you didn't try, and that's gotta be some consolation. What an effort. It's so heartbreaking. You deserve a hort. medal for bravery for the important info you're discovering on cold tolerance for these plants.

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    1. So far I've discovered the Callistemon citrinus absolutely HATES being in the basement. Even though I've got a fan going and keep misting the plants. Dried up leaves everywhere. Poor thing.

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  8. I have tried the pipe insulation, but if anything, it made the situation worse, the outer bark and cambium slimed instead of dried up hard. But it was only a one time experiment, so hopefully you will have better luck. Sue

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    1. Yikes! Hopefully I will. It has been very very dry here so here's praying there isn't enough moisture for any slime to develop.

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  9. Grevillea victoriae will be fine, and the G. juniperina types also. Callistemon will be fine. Embothrium, maybe, but then maybe not since it doesn't look very hardened off. Loquat and Trachycarpus ought to be fine, they usually don't have problems until below 10 degrees. If Acacia pravissima survives I will be impressed. It is wimpier than Banksia marginata. I suspect those spineless Opuntias may collapse but let's hope I am wrong about that.

    It is always a learning experience and we look forward to future reports on what survived/what didn't and how they are recovering!

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    1. Callistemon was killed in Austin gardens two years ago in a severe cold snap similar to what you just experienced, Loree. My spineless Opuntia collapsed this week in just 24F cold, but they'll come back.

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    2. Thanks Ian, I appreciate you weighing in with your knowledge and experience. The Embothrium had been in the ground only since last spring, it was one of those I knew was a risk but thought worth a try. That silly acacia, I keep rubbing the leaves expecting them to fall to the ground but so far nothing. Since my husband wants it gone it would be pretty funny if it lives on somehow.

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    3. Pam - which callistemon do you know? There are a lot of zone 9 species that are totally not hardy. I keep expecting my opuntia to fold over but so far they're not. It's odd.

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    4. There are 55' tall Embothriums in the Seattle area that have lived through worse... no damage down to 8 degrees... the key issue is just whether it was sufficiently hardened off. It's definitely hardy once established here.

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    5. If you have time before the spring HPSO sale I'd love it if you could come by. Anytime that weekend. I've love to hear your thoughts on things in my garden. I've got an Embothrium in the front garden that's been in the ground for 3 years. It's grown...well...not an inch. That crazy one in the back garden was planted this spring at about 12" and is now a good 8' tall. How does that happen?

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    6. sounds great, but remind me again when the time approaches!

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  10. I keep going out and giving my Acacia a little stroke . There is a tiny Echreveria that was left in the gravel that seems unfazed , though I haven't checked on it today yet .

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    1. And so it sounds like your acacia is still showing signs of life?

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  11. You are such a better mom than me. I should have used sox on the Mahonia buds. Oh, well...when we went for a walk yesterday I was wearing several layers of silk and wool and ski gloves and was moving to generate body heat. I was still cold. Imagine what the poor plants are experiencing.

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    1. I just keep reminding myself they can't feel pain...

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  12. You're such a good plant mom! My fingers are crossed for all of your tender babies still outside. Let's hope this is the only big cold that we have this year!

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    1. Really, I don't know how much more of this I can take. Andrew might come home to a note on the fridge saying I went to live with my brother in Arizona!

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  13. At first you had me worried about my Trachcarpus but Ian has me hopeful again. Our Fatsia japonicas can recover together, and I am now fearful for my Callistemon 'Woodlander's Hardy Red'. Let us fervently hope the "Hardy" part of its name is true.

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    1. I noticed leaves starting to turn brown today on the Fatsia. I remember it did that in 2008/9 and 2009/10. Lots of dead leaves but by June it was fine. Looking at all of the tall trachy around town I suspect many have been through worse and survived. I just wanted to hug them with a towel or two. Oh and the 'Woodlander's Hardy Red' hasn't missed a beat in the past, without a bit of protection. We shall see what it thinks this time around.

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  14. This has to be a heartbreaking time of year for you. The valley areas to the north of us get frost and suffer some losses but even they don't face the sustained periods of cold you're experiencing. I hope your interventions make the difference this year!

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    1. I have never been able to cope with cold, heat has always been preferred. Taking the dog out for walks as become drudgery since it requires 10 minutes of suiting up for the cold, misery while were out there, and then 10 minutes of removing layers when we get home.

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  15. You've done pretty much what can be done to protect as much as possible, short of building a dome over everything. At least you can look back later on and say you've done the best that you could.

    This post makes for a good reference too when it comes to winter protecting. I think you've done an amazing job and your efforts will be rewarded, with much more survival over potential casualties. Hopefully the cold spell there will end soon. The Loquat should be fine btw :)

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    1. Well the best I was able to do with the resources I had. Thanks guys.

      At first I wasn't going to post so many pictures but then I've really benefited from being able to look back on my prior arctic air posts so I figured I should. Plus I thought it might any newbie gardeners here in Portland to know they're not alone in their distress over the conditions.

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  16. It's been a depressing week, that's for sure. I have plants in the spare shower stall, hallway, garage and laundry room. I will rejoice when it rains and remains at 40 degrees. Get me out of this frigid grip!

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    1. Glad to read you've got plants taking over your spaces too. I realized today as much as I love them it's driving me a little bit crazy to have to unload the washer and dryer to do laundry and climb over things to get to the storage room. Damn this better be it for the winter!

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    2. It's not even winter yet :(

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    3. Ah just a mere technicality of the calendar. If it talks like a winter and walks like a winter than winter it is. Just think, that means spring begins March 1st this year...

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  17. Oh, Loree, I'm so sorry about your horrible deep freeze. I hope your wrapping saves most of the tender babies. I have to say, your garden sheets look so much prettier than mine! I use old hand-me-down, big-floral sheets for frost-proofing, and they definitely aren't as classy as your purple polka dots.

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    1. Oh but floral sheets sound perfect for the garden! Those big dots (brown by the way) irritate me every-time I see them. They're Marimekko from Crate & Barrel and I LOVED them. Then the first time I washed them the dots faded all over the white. I should have returned them right then.

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  18. I'm so impressed with your winterizing efforts. And the edgeworthia shot made me giggle. I'm not letting my plants see this for fear that they might migrate to your garden. :-) I've already made vacation plans to head back to Far Reaches Farm next spring. Plant death is a certainty in my garden.

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    1. I was inspired to put the socks on the edgeworthia based on a Facebook comment from Cindy McMorris Tournier, she shared that a neighbor did something similar (I can't remember what they were protecting) but at Christmas put red bows on the socks. I never got around to that part...

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  19. You have to step up your game with protection at those low temps. Simple coverage is next to worthless, (sorry to tell you), and you'd allso need to insulate with dried leaves or similar, add some heat source below tarps like wrapping with old style(non-LED christmas lights, or an incandescent light under a sealed to the ground tarp to hold in heat. Triage is also key, why wasted time on things which are root hardy? I focus on protecting the most valuable(to me), or slowest to regain size, or most expensive. Doing your preferred half hardies as summer plunge pots to be moved and grouped under one big tarp with a heat source is a longer term solution going forward, (again, just being pragmatic). Pipe insulation over stems and socks on branch tips at 20°F and below = useless. Hope you are pleasantly surprised by what does survive, but if you want to keep growing with zonal denial, you'll have to be more prepared to be effective and acknowledge basic laws of thermodynamics :(

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    1. As my title alludes to I am fully aware of the shortcomings of my protection methods. In fact that's kind of the subject of the entire post. I did what I could with what I had (yes including dried leaves) and we'll see what happens. Also I can't help but sense a bit of anger in your comment and I wonder why? It's not like I'm killing your plants.

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  20. And here I was irked for having to wear long pants instead of my usual gardening shorts. I cannot possibly achieve your level of dedication; it is admirable! The socks on the Edgeworthia may do nothing, but look great. Help or not, they must give everyone a smile.

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    1. And that is worth something! (a smile)

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  21. Good luck to you Loree. Even though I'm in zone 8, I try not to push to boundaries too much because I know we can have unpredictable plunges. We always seem to fare better when temps gradually get cold and stay that way. The wildly up and down thermometer is when we get in trouble.

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    1. Thank you so much Les, and thankfully we were cold before the severe cold - that should help.

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  22. Oh, I'm so sorry for your freezing garden. But I love how creative you are with your protection devices - in particular those socks. ha! We've had a week of night temps in the mid-twenties and for the first time EVER I haven't covered a single thing. I don't know what's gotten into me, but I'm just staying warm inside, saying a Hail Mary, and may the best man win. So far my 'Sunburst' aeonium is the first to belly-up, but my other varieties are hanging in there. I wish you the best of luck and fingers crossed the damage is minimal in your beautiful garden. Damn snow.

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    1. Oh Rebecca, thank you. I was going to do the no cover thing, "Que Sera, Sera" but in the end I gave in. Your garden is so established that losing a few things hopefully won't be too noticeable. Mine is still so young that I feel every death is an exclamation point.

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  23. I'm sorry, I had a chuckle at the socks on the Edgeworthia. My heart goes out to you Loree.
    I can only imagine how you must feel.

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    1. Amy I still marvel at your comment about not ever seeing cold weather damage on plants until my post of a few weeks ago. My head just can't comprehend. Such a different reality we both have. I should have asked about your snow in 2014 comment. Where are you headed that you'll finally see snow?

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    2. We do have very different realities indeed! Yours is so much tougher than mine. As long as I plan semi-carefully and don't put anything precious in the full sun, and make sure they're not thirsty on the 40+ degree celsius days, I'm safe.
      We're going to the UK and then Norway, our first time overseas. Looking forward to it!

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  24. Gosh, Loree, yes please feel free to share your thoughts--that's tough. You did everything you could, though. Thing is, you weren't even pushing zones, as you say. While that type of weather is totally normal for the northern Midwest, it's totally unexpected for you. I will keep you and your plants in my thoughts. Crossing my fingers for you!

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    1. Thank you so much, I do appreciate your saying that. It's starting to warm up here, the thermometer has stalled at 28 for several hours now, rather than dropping. My fingers will be uncrossed long enough tomorrow to unwrap things!

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  25. Even if a few things succumb, I think you can at least say you tried your best...a truly valiant effort. I keep thinking it may not be as bad as it seems...those weeks of cold weather earlier hopefully put things into dormancy...so much better than the shock of a sudden drop. My fingers are crossed for you! Socks or no socks, I'd be happy to be your neighbor :-)

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    1. Indeed, it might not be as bad as it seems...I am starting to believe! The cold really may have done us a favor. And thank you about the neighbor comment. I really do feel pretty trashy...

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  26. I sure been there.. here in Fl freezes are uncommon.....I have uses those same pipe insulators

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  27. I'm going to keep thinking positive thoughts for you that less will suffer than you expect. Such a wicked, hard freeze we've had. Like I said on Saturday, I'm skipping over the part of sadness for plants lost and moving forward with building shopping lists for next spring. Yea, I may be in denial, but it's what I've got. ;)

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    1. Thank you Jennifer - and really the mere thought you were still wanting to find your first agave after all of this, well you made my day! Hopefully one or two of my in ground agaves will prove hardy enough that I can gift you a pup.

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  28. Night after night in the low 20's here, and my citrus looks like crap,even though I covered it.Thank goodness I moved my Echeverias into the house or garage. If you go to a place where contractors shop you might find pipe insulation with a bigger ID ..

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    1. I'm so sorry about your citrus! Where do you suggest? I was at the Home Depot along with the contractors last week at 7:15 am. Is there a better place?

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  29. I love how you're so neat and tidy with all your plant coverings! My garden looks like redneck central right now - blue tarps, upside down garbage cans, christmas lights, old blankets, big piles of leaves I borrowed from the neighbor's yard, the list goes on and on....

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    1. Oh I've got the upside down garbage cans! In fact as soon as our trash was picked up last Wednesday morning that one was put to use. Thankfully it will be available this week for trash as needed. Also I insisted on brown tarps - that's the only saving grace there. Otherwise you'd see blue. I hope your garden is relatively untouched!

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  30. Clever idea re the Tetrapanax. If I have lost mine, I will do that to my next one, next time.

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    1. Maybe wait until I report on how it went. After Davis Sue's comment I'm a little leery.

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  31. Brrrr......crossing my numb fingers for everyone...

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    1. Careful don't let them freeze like that!

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  32. Rooting for your great efforts, Danger G! That it was cold before your uber-freeze is good...that <32F duration is more than Abq or here get, but we go colder, too...the way some of those plants photographed does bring back memories of the last 5 years at the old place. A good lesson and some nice surprises, I bet...and where there are holes, I know you have an alt:plan! ("Loree abhors a vacuum")

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    1. Thanks David, hopefully we won't go colder, although it's been known to happen.

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  33. DG, I surely feel for you. My plants are all appropriately zoned for our fierce winter temps and winds. When a hail storm, mid July, dropping dime to quarter size hail destroys the very living things you have nurtured into beautiful blooming plants, you feel sick. However, an older lady across the street who has gardened her whole life, full of green thumb wisdom, told me to give my plants a good liquid fertilizer. I did and they bounced back. We all know that nature bats last, but I just try to be in the outfield to catch the ball and have her ruled "out" before she gets to home base.
    CheyDesignGuy

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    1. Thanks CheyDesignGuy and oh my yes, hail is very destructive. It tears holes in the big leaves and pock-marks the succulents. I guess you're a baseball fan?

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  34. I hope there is luck and that many of your tender plants make it through this event. I´ve had the same type of event at my garden but as I don´t live in the same place where I have the garden and I have to drive a few hours to get there, I haven´t been able to protect the plants enough... I´m fearing what will happen... ah, and I´ve got freezing temperatures and hungry goats around...

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    1. I'm sorry to read that Lisa, it must be such an emotional roller coaster to not be there when you "need" to be!

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  35. You is a very good Mama Loree! Here in the GWN it feels like -19C today. My winter protection was limited to sending Slytherin [Cedrus atlantica] to the store at work where he'll hopefully appreciate the frost free temps, and actually planting 'Shira' [Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum'] in the ground - as they both reside in large pots on my veranda during the garden season. I cannot imagine having to deal with the 'brood' that is your family every year! Stay warm!

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    1. Thanks Barry, I sounds like your babies are snug. Hey hows that Agave parryi?

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  36. There is no doubt it will help, maybe not everything, but enough to make all that hard work worth while. Those long cold spells are very worrying far more so than just very cold nights. I really hope it warms up for you soon.

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    1. Thanks Spiky O - today (Tues the 10th) was the magical day, above freezing! I'm holding off making any proclamations of success since really it't to early to tell.

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  37. fifi lafontaineDecember 10, 2013

    Thanks for this post, Ms Danger! I agree with everyone that you did a great job tucking everything in as snugly as possible. Someone on fb said something that gives me a fleeting hope that things will be okay-they mentioned that the temps gradually sunk down to those wretched lows. Maybe this "primed" the plants for the cold? Maybe that sounds dumb, but I am clinging to it as it gives me a little hope.

    You're right, my acacia looks suspiciously ok too! Do you think it'll suddenly flop over when it starts to warm up? ;\

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    1. Indeed fifi, if we hadn't had the cold of the preceding couple of weeks this would have been much worse. That one year (2010?) where we hadn't had a freeze and then all of a sudden it was in the low 20's is very hard on things.

      As for the Acacia pravissima...I've got a couple of Acacia cultriformis (not as hardy) which are already dead dead dead. The color of the leaves makes it obvious. The color of the A. pravissima still looks good. I don't get it! Of course since it bends over the top of the house I can't see what those leaves look like.

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  38. Re: boxleaf azara -- thumbs up! Go see the gorgeous ones at the corner of NE Tillamook and NE 10th (peek up the steps to the backyard beyond the hedge) for inspiration -- some of the most mature ones I've seen in my neighborhood travels. I hope all your efforts have saved at least some of your precious plants. Is the worst over for us in Portland with the winter weather this year?

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    1. Gawd I hope the worst is over!!! Thanks for the tip about NE Tillamook and NE 10th I'll check it out...

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  39. All you can do is try, right? I do the same thing here with wrapping up my babies but I've found over the years I don't wrap as much nor as many things.

    I began to wonder how much the wrapping helps and was going to get a remote thermometer to check but again, after weeks here (in BC, Canada) of below freezing temps the wrap is most likely next to useless... still we try.

    Hope all worked out for you... I love your plants.

    Ron

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    1. Thanks Ron and you're right...still we try. I'm seeing a lot of things starting to go over to the brown (or mushy) side. Augh...

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  40. Good luck! I'm sure you'll end up with plenty of things surviving, things always seem to work out better than expected.

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  41. Just wondering how your socks-covered Edgeworthia turned out. Did the buds survive? It's going to be 11 degrees here in North Carolina tonight and I am debating if I should try covering them. Usually I find it's an exercise in futility but I will be seriously depressed if my Edgeworthia buds bite the dust. Thoughts?

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    1. Sarah so far they seem to have survived. I never would have thought to do it but just happened to read the right combination of someone complaining about loosing their buds in the cold and someone else commenting about a neighbor doing this and thought what the heck! So yes, I would definitely do it.

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